For the best description of Gavin Newsom’s behavior during his debate with gubernatorial challenger Brian Dahle last Sunday, one must go all the way back to Hunter Thompson’s unforgettable book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in 1972, where he compares a career politician on the scent of the presidency to a bull elk in a mating rut. Here is a snippet of Thompson’s arresting prose:
“The dumb bastards lose all control of themselves when the rut comes on. Their eyes glaze over, their ears pack up with hot wax, and their loins get heavy with blood. Anything that sounds like a cow elk in heat will fuse the central nervous systems of every bull on the mountain. They will race through the timber like huge cannonballs, trampling small trees and scraping off bloody chunks of their own hair on the unyielding bark of the big ones. They behave like sharks in a feeding frenzy, attacking each other with all the demented violence of human drug dealers gone mad on their own wares. A career politician finally smelling the White House is not much different from a bull elk in the rut. He will stop at nothing, trashing anything that gets in his way.”
Against such potent political hormones, cascading through Newsom’s whole lanky body these days with the force of the Los Angeles River after a monsoon has dumped ten inches of rain onto the San Gabriel Mountains in under an hour, Dahle never had a chance.
Even if Dahle could have mustered sufficient combative eloquence to butt heads with Newsom in rut, the setup was rigged. In a fair staging, the candidates are placed on opposite sides of the set, with the moderators in the center, usually facing them. Thanks to organizer bias likely masquerading as budget constraints, this debate had two tables, both facing the camera, with the candidates at one table and the moderators at the other. The tables were angled to make it easier for the moderators and candidates to see each other. At the candidate table, Newsom had the outside spot. Throughout the debate, this put Dahle at a major disadvantage.
Instead of both candidates being in identical and therefore neutral positions, Dahle was sandwiched between the moderators and Newsom. He was forced to either turn his head towards the moderators or towards Newsom, and could never speak to them both at the same time. Newsom, on the other hand, turned in his chair to practically face Dahle, looming over him whenever he tried to speak. It was reminiscent of how Trump hovered behind candidate Hilary Clinton in the second presidential debate of 2016. But don’t expect the same approbation to fall on Newsom.
Hectoring Dahle like a schoolboy, Newsom used his height advantage as well as his positioning to lean into Dahle’s personal space with impunity, often making points with hand gestures that moved well beyond the halfway point of the table to almost, but not quite, make Dahle involuntarily flinch. It was a masterful display of dominant body language, facilitated by the sponsors of the debate either through disgraceful negligence or willful hostility towards Dahle.
One must wonder why a public broadcasting service, funded by taxes along with tax deductible donations, can’t even muster impartiality when the chances that Dahle, whose campaign account through the most recent reporting period ending 9/24 had a balance of $408,000 compared to Newsom’s $23.2 million, has about as much chance of an upset as walk-on athletes from Newsom’s favorite Waldorf school have of fielding a football team and beating the Los Angeles Rams. And it wasn’t just the stage that was rigged. Throughout the debate, as Newsom, leaning in, repeatedly interrupted Dahle, the moderators made no attempt to give the candidates equal time to speak.
With all that said, even if Newsom was so old he’d need transplants to maintain his pompadour, and was not entering the springtime of his presidential political rut, Dahle was outgunned. Several times he got trapped in places where with more experience he would have been able to score points. One tough example of this was when Newsom goaded Dahle into focusing on and defending a gas tax holiday, when it appeared Dahle was about to make a much more powerful point about California’s supply gutting regulatory war on refineries and drilling.
Another area where Dahle got backed into a corner, with Newsom getting help from one of the moderators, was on the question of whether Proposition 1 would permit late term abortions. Dahle all but let them assert that Prop. 1 does not do that, when in fact the language is ambiguous. If legal experts who are pro-life have concluded that Prop. 1 will permit late term abortions, that should be good enough for Dahle to run with. He should have forcefully declared his belief that Prop. 1 will permit abortions up until birth, and he could have immediately – without taking a breath or permitting himself to be interrupted – to ask Newsom why even abortion at “only” six months is not grotesque. He could have described a six month old fetus and challenged Newsom to defend killing it.
Instead, the moderators used the abortion discussion to segue into asking Dahle if he is for the death penalty, and again Dahle appeared indecisive. If Dahle has gone on record as supporting the death penalty, which the moderators implied, then he needed to own it. He could have explained the grisly, psychopathic, hideous, murderous crimes that earned these criminals a death sentence and challenged Newsom to explain how these criminals should be spared while innocent babies are killed. It’s not a contradiction to support the death penalty while also being pro-life. Unless there is no difference between a murderer and a baby, what’s contradictory is amnesty for killers and death for fetuses.
Over and over Dahle was outmaneuvered by Newsom with the complicity of the moderators. A telling moment was during the segment on public education, where Newsom said he “took offense” at Dahle’s criticism of California’s K-12 system of public education, where, as Dahle pointed out, “seventy percent of kids can’t read at their grade level.” Watching Newsom in this moment was revealing. As the hormones of his presidential rut surged through him, you could see a vicious curl to his mouth and hear a vicious edge to his voice. That it would surface in this moment should be no surprise. Newsom is owned by the teachers union, one of the most powerful special interests in the state, an organization in complete denial of the harm they’ve done to a generation of students.
Republicans Have Solutions – But They Have to Own Them
If politicians like Brian Dahle, and the California Republican Party he represents, want to have any chance to regain political power they will have to lean in to the issues where they’re being challenged. They have to openly and loudly reject the premises of the Democratic establishment.
“Climate change” is not the reason California’s forests are burning. It’s because California’s Democrat controlled legislature has destroyed the timber industry at the same time as it has made it all but impossible to graze livestock, do controlled burns, or mechanically thin the forests. They’re overgrown tinderboxes. Why didn’t Dahle make this point, raising his voice while doing so?
Similarly, Newsom’s blather about creating jobs could have been countered by Dahle interrupting and reminding Newsom that California has the highest rate of poverty in the nation. Dahle was right to point out that companies are leaving and residents as well are fleeing to other states, but why, when Newsom rattled off some vague story about “public-private and public-public partnerships” to revitalize Kern County, Dahle should have interrupted him to state the obvious: If you want to create good jobs in Kern County, start drilling again for oil and gas. Quit sending our money and our best jobs to Nicolás Maduro.
It is impossible to tepidly call for more oil and gas drilling, more refinery capacity, more logging, more nuclear power plants, and more reservoir storage. These things must be done. It is not possible to sort of and partially hold the teachers union responsible for ruining the public schools. They are unequivocally responsible. Instead of letting Newsom, again with help during the debate from the moderators, claim that Proposition 47 (which decriminalized crime) didn’t cause more crime, dispute that highly debatable assertion, and remark that even without Prop. 47, district attorneys like the idiotic George Gascon in Los Angeles are actively working to make our cities unsafe.
It is a moderate politician that is outspoken and explicit in their support for clean fossil fuel, safe nuclear power, off-stream reservoirs, responsible logging, and school choice. It is a moderate politician that calls for putting criminals in jail, and moving homeless people into centralized, cost-effective and safe shelters. It is a moderate politician that calls for deregulation in order to enable more competition between businesses which will drive down costs for everything, including housing. And any politician with an ounce of decency knows that a late term abortion is one of the most ghastly forms of murder imaginable. So no. No late term abortions. Make Democrats defend abortions up to six months, which is appalling enough.
These are the solutions that Newsom accused Dahle, and his party, of lacking. California’s Republicans have to be promote these solutions without apology or compromise. They are not extreme, even though they shatter every premise and piety of the Democratic machine. The politically and environmentally correct “solutions” that have been imposed on Californians by Democrats are nothing but a facade to empower special interests. Solutions exist. They’re scary. Own them.
Newsom won last night. He won because he is slick, as Dahle pointed out. He won because the debate itself, right down to the seating assignments, was rigged in his favor. He won because he spoke his party’s line with the conviction of an accomplished thespian, whereas Dahle’s truths were sincere but lacked theatrical passion.
But let’s be real. Even if Dahle destroyed Newsom, leaving his political carcass, reeking of rut, wasting on the roadside, Dahle would still be financially outgunned by more than 50 to 1. An advantage like that can turn a comatose candidate into a winning competitor. Just consider the zombie who two years ago became U.S. President. That’s what overwhelming support from established special interests can do in politics. Newsom’s no zombie. Newsom is a bull moose, in the full flush of his political life, lusting for the prize.
California’s Republicans must change the terms of the discussion. They must build their platform on a foundation that doesn’t merely reject, but ridicules and replaces the fundamental assumptions of the Democratic party, their media allies, and the special interests that are mopping up the state. Only then will they attract the support they need to win.
This article originally appeared in the California Globe.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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